ATLANTA — Atlanta’s economy is strong, sources in the fresh produce industry say.
If the Atlanta metropolitan statistical area were a country, it would be the world’s 44th-largest economy, according to a June report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Produce wholesalers on the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park say their business is growing alongside the expanding metropolitan area, which is experiencing 3.6% yearly economic growth, according to the report.
The 29 counties in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metropolitan area, the country’s ninth-largest, increased to 5.5 million in 2013, up 1.3% from 2012 but 5% more since 2010, making it among the highest-growing of the leading metropolitan regions, according to the census bureau.
“This city is aggressive in drawing new industries and new people here,” said Nickey Gregory, president and owner of Nickey Gregory Co. LLC.
“The Atlanta economy overall is growing. Housing is back up as prices are rising and they’re building again. Our governor has done a good job drawing big businesses to the state. It helps when new players come into the area offering 500 to 1,000 new jobs.”
Brian Young, vice president of Coosemans Atlanta Inc., compares the metropolitan area’s growth to expansion of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, one of the busiest U.S. hubs.
“Just like the airport, Atlanta seems to be getting bigger and bigger,” he said.
“Business is quite brisk here and the demand is there. As the airport gets larger, it just seems business is increasing and keeping pace with what’s going on in this area. The produce economy seems to be very strong too. The years 2013 and 2014 have been very good.”
Young says the city hosts large amounts of commerce, which includes a growing movie production industry and hip-hop music as well as a strong tourist business.
“There is a good plethora of retail and restaurant business in Atlanta, so there’s quite a bit of demand,” he said.
The city’s strong overall economy is helping pack restaurants and grocery stores with customers, distributors report.
“The last year or so has been better than the prior two years,” said David Collins III, president of Forest Park-based Phoenix Wholesale Foodservice Inc.
“Because of the cold weather and the economy, a lot of the seeds people wanted to plant just couldn’t germinate. But now those seeds are germinating.
“There’s always young entrepreneurs looking to break into a market. We are seeing new businesses opening. New businesses are coming to town and there are different concepts arriving. There are a lot of opportunities.”
Business keeps moving for those who supply produce to foodservice customers.
“From my vantage point, Atlanta’s economy is good,” said Robert Poole, director of sales for Athena Farms in Forest Park.
“For the produce economy, it’s very stable, but we’re not dealing with the whole pie. Even if the pie is getting smaller, that doesn’t mean my slice has to get smaller. What’s happening is rather than the pie shrinking, it’s expanding. It’s not a zero-sum game in the sense that as new concepts enter this market, there may be people going out to eat that maybe weren’t spending those monies before, which benefits people like us.”
Atlanta wholesalers are enjoying additional foodservice and retail sales, said Diana Earwood, vice president and general manager of the produce division of Sutherland’s Foodservice Inc., and general manager of Forest Park-based Destiny Organics LLC.
“We are seeing steady sales with opportunity spurred by current corporate foodservice mergers and in retail, sales are on the upswing due to the demand for organics and local and healthy eating,” she said.
“The region in general has had some positive momentum in the second quarter according to the statistics. Produce is key to Georgia and this region.”
Business continues to increase for Forest Park-based Sunbelt Produce Distributors Inc.
“Our sales are up,” said Cliff Sherman, owner.
“The business is crazy and it has been busy. Business overall seems strong in the market. More customers are coming on and they’re buying more. It’s a ripple effect. We are growing our company and growing with our customers and increasing demand along with our customers.”